It is apparent that many women find the work environment to be a hostile place. Stories abound about women being asked all manners of inappropriate questions in interviews, such as if they have children, do they plan on having children, what does their husband think of their career, etc. Employers want assurance that work will come above all else, and an employee must commit to that work ethic or else.
For mothers of small children, this approach is particularly problematic. As we know, children are unpredictable. They can get sick, they can have vacations, and they may just want and need attention. All of this demands time and understanding, something rare in the workplace.
Many newspapers have reported about the high-power career women who have left their jobs to pursue a career in caring for their children. But do they do this out of will, or because they feel that they are forced out?
Of course, it is not only women that seek a better balance between family and work. Many men also would like to have more time to spend with their families and children.
The ROWE approach – Results Only Work Environment
Self-employment is one option for those seeking greater flexibility in their jobs. But self-employment is not for everyone, and many prefer the security of a monthly paycheck.
The answer (possibly): ROWE – Results Only Work Environment. This is an experiment that has been implemented by Best Buy, whereby bosses have no say in scheduling and can only judge employees by tasks successfully completed. So workers can work when and were they want, as long as they fulfill their responsibilities. This “experiment” has been in place for five years, and Best Buy reports that employee productivity has increased an average of 35% in departments covered by the program.
This plan not only increases productivity, but also saves them money:
“The per-employee cost of turnover is $102,000, and ROWE teams have 3.2 percent less voluntary turnover than non-ROWE teams. So once Best Buy’s 4,000-person headquarters is completely converted to ROWE, the company stands to save about $13 million a year in replacement costs.”
I can personally attest to the ridiculousness of time-based employment. In one of my first jobs, I was employed as an editor for 20 hours a week, and up to 40 depending on the workload. I was completing the editing work in 5 hours. To fill up the remaining 15, I offered to take on other tasks. I ended up reorganizing their library and became their “librarian”, helped the bookkeeper with her backlog, and I even started working for another department doing research and improved their client-communication material. Not to mention that I worked with them on writing their brochure, and managed the project for improving their CRM system. But when the end of the year came, they saw that I was missing many hours because often I would come in a half hour late or leave a bit earlier because of my kids – this adds up over a year. They didn’t care that I was doing three times the amount of work, and made me pay for my missing hours. Some of you may think this is totally fair on their part, but I felt very unappreciated (and soon left to more appreciative pastures).
The conventional time-based work environment penalizes those who are efficient. It may even encourage people to waste time – why should they fulfill a task in one hour if it means they will only get recognition for one hour of work? Better to drag it across three hours, and make the boss happy.
Will companies begin to adopt ROWE? I don’t think so, at least not in the foreseeable future. It’s hard to get executives to wrap their heads around this new way of thinking. But at least there’s hope on the horizon!
After I gave birth recently, I found myself in an entirely new situation with regards to motherhood and work. For the first time, I gave birth not as an employee, but as a business owner. This meant that I could not expect a maternity leave like the one I had known after my previous child was born, where I switched off almost all connections from anything work-related. I did not know what I was in for, and I have to admit that the new reality of business-owner/new mother caught me off guard.
Before I gave birth, I made an effort to find information that would help me manage business and baby at the same time. Most of the information that showed up in searches was related to the technicalities of maternity leave and receiving compensation. There was almost nothing about women business-owners and how they should handle their maternity leave period.
After Tifferet was born, I became aware of the difficulty of my situation and began blogging about it for two reasons: 1. Writing is a therapeutic activity, and it helped me get my head around my current situation; and 2. I was hoping that other women could benefit from reading about birth and business.
Surprisingly, a man expressed the most interest in what I was writing. Bill Dueease is a business coach who was inspired by my writing to create a page on his coaching site dedicated to women and the dilemmas they face with regards to work. He recently completed the page, and posted the link in a comment. It looks like he’s managed to identify almost all of the possible situations, at all stages of life that women face with regards to work and family. Does he have the answers as to how to manage these situations? Right now only his clients will know. In the meantime, my “maternity leave” ends in two weeks, and I still don’t know the answers, although I think I’m starting to get an idea. Stay tunedâ€¦
In Part 1 of my series on Self Employment and Maternity Leave, I discussed the technical aspects of getting compensation from social security for maternity leave. In Part 2, I discussed whether it is realistic for a business owner to disappear for three months and hope that the business will still be there when she gets back from her maternity leave. My conclusion is that it is not.
Having said that, I promised that I would explain how it is possible to get any work done while on maternity leave. There are two main “environmental” supports that I found play a significant role in my ability to get work done with baby in tow:
- Home office: make sure that you have a complete a home office, since you will need to work whenever you find time available. Also, getting to an outside office is pretty difficult during maternity leave. Computer, Internet, phone, email, fax, and software should all be available to you in your home.
- Baby sling: babies like to be held. A lot. If you are holding them with your hands, you can’t get much else done. But we women are all about multi-tasking, and that’s where the sling comes into play. Place baby in sling and voila! – two hands available for typing, juggling, knitting, and even archery.
Severe time constraints
Aside from the above support systems, it is important to realize that the time available to you for work with a baby at home is severely limited. In order to handle the diminished amount of time, there are two things you can do:
- Improve your efficiency, and adopt a better system for completing tasks. Many people are avid followers of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” time management system. Not only is there a book on the subject, there are blogs, wikis, and free online software dedicated to helping people become more productive. I personally am still trying to figure out what this whole movement is about, but it seems worth checking into.
- Make a conscious effort to shrink your workload. Understand that the current reality of a new baby means that you can’t work 24 hours a day, even if you wanted to. Baby cries, needs to eat, wants to be held, etc., and this can eat up significant parts of your day. Some ways to lower your workload is to avoid actively seeking out new work, to stop any marketing programs you may be running, and take a lower profile.
Don’t feed the computer
Here’s an amusing anecdote (at least I think it’s amusing). A colleague called to see how I was progressing on a project. I told him I was working on it, and that it wasn’t easy since I had the baby on one side, and the computer on the other.
He said “Just make sure you don’t start typing on the baby and feeding the computer.”
P.S. It is very hard to find information on how to plan your business for the arrival of a new baby. Well, there’s actually someone out there who helps businesswomen prepare their businesses for their maternity leave. See the comment on this blog by Bill Dueease, who describes some things that women can do in advance to reduce the conflict of choices that faces mothers, including putting together what he calls a “baby plan.” Take a look at his informative comment, and then visit his site!
In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about self-employed women and the issues facing them when trying to get proper compensation from Bituach Leumi/Social Insurance. However, a self-employed mommy faces another significant dilemma after giving birth: how can you just stop your business for three months?
Can you afford to lose clients?
Running a business involves more than just getting the work done â€“ it means being there for your clients. Loyal clients are very valuable, and part of what makes them happy is that they know that you are there for them all the time. This is particularly true if your clients are other businesses. In Israel, as I’ve written before, business is very fast-paced and chances are that most clients won’t be able to wait three months for you to get things done. They need your services now; they want results yesterday! Losing these clients is very costly, so you really want to make sure you retain them.
And how about new clients? Every new client presents not only the opportunity for income, but also the opportunity to grow your business, which is probably the number one goal for most business owners. If they are happy, they will hopefully come back to you again, and even recommend you to others. But if you turn them away, you have lost an opportunity to create a new net of potential customers.
It’s possible that the situation is different for large, established businesses. If you own a business with tens or hundreds of employees, and you’ve been around for many years and the business can kind of run itself, then you may be able to fade out for a few months. But if you are a small business that is relatively new, and you don’t have the resources (time and money) to hire a team to take over while you’re gone, I don’t know if you can just turn out the lights and hope for the best. Owners of small businesses are often the business â€“ clients work with the company because of the owner. In addition, the owner also takes part in more than just management and actually provides the service as well.
My maternity leave strategy, which failed â€“ or succeeded, depending on how you look at it
My personal take on maternity leave as a business owner was that I would not make any efforts to bring in new business. That way existing clients would be happy, and I could maybe rest a bit, read some books (I did manage to read The Tipping Point), and/or learn something new (during my last maternity leave I learned how to build websites and started planning my new business â€“ all from the comfort of my computer chair!). Well, that didn’t work out quite as planned; business actually started pouring in from the day I gave birth! I don’t quite understand that one, but there is an old Yiddish/Hebrew saying: “A child brings their bread with them,” i.e. you don’t have to worry about how you will support your children because they bring the income with them. It’s one of those metaphysical things.
Ok, but babies = no time for anything else!
The final question that many of you may be asking yourselves, especially other mothers who’ve been there, is “How can you get any work done with a baby around?” The answer to that, dear readers, will be in Part 3â€¦